The artist Millet loved to draw as well as to paint. Black and white pictures had their charm for him as truly as those in color. Indeed, he once said that "tone," which is the most important part of color, can be perfectly expressed in black and white. It is therefore not strange that he made many drawings. Some of these, like the Knitting Lesson and the Woman Feeding Hens, were, as we have seen, studies for paintings. The picture called Filling the Water-Bottles was, on the other hand, a charcoal drawing, corresponding to no similar painting. It is in itself a finished work of art.

It is a typical French river scene which we see here, and it gives us an idea how large a part a river may take in the life of French country people. Sometimes it is the sole source of water for a village. Then it is not only the common village laundry, in which all clothing is washed, but it is also the great village fountain, from which all drinking-water is drawn.

From a carbon print by Braun, Clément & Co. FILLING THE WATER-BOTTLES John Andrew & Son, Sc.

The women in our picture have come to the bank with big earthen jars to fill. It is in the cool of early morning, and the mist still lies thick over the marshes bordering the river. The sun, seen through the mist, looks like a round ball. On the farther bank, where a group of poplars grow, some horsemen ride up to ford the stream. They, too, are setting forth early on their day's work. One is already half across.

The women have picked out, along the marshy bank, a point of land jutting into the river like a miniature promontory, and seemingly of firm soil. It is only large enough to hold one at a time, so they take turns. One is now filling a bottle, while the other waits, standing beside two jars.

The first woman kneels on the ground, and supporting herself firmly by placing one hand on the edge of the bank, she grasps the jar by the handle, with her free right hand, and swings it well out over the water. Experience has taught her the most scientific way of filling the jar with least muscular strain. She does not try to plunge it down into the water, but holding it on its side, slightly tipped, draws it along with the mouth half under the surface, sucking in the water as it moves. We see what hard, firm muscles she has to hold the arm out so tensely. Her arm acts like a compass describing the arc of a circle through the water with the jar. As we look, we can almost see her completing the circle, and drawing up the full jar upon the bank.

The woman who waits her turn is capable of the same feat. There is power in every line of her figure as she stands in what has been well described by a critic as a "majestic pose." She straightens back to rest, with her arms on her hips, quite unconscious that there is anything fine in her appearance.

Look a minute and you will see that she is the woman of the Angelus. As we saw her in the other picture, with head bowed and hands clasped on her breast, we did not realize how grand and strong she was. But raising her head, throwing back her chest, and putting her arms on her sides, she shows us now her full power.

Both women are dressed alike in the clothing which is now familiar to us from the other pictures,—coarse gowns made with scanty skirts, long aprons reaching nearly to the bottom of the dress, kerchiefs fastened snugly about their heads, and wooden sabots. We could not imagine anything that would become them better. It is part of the French nature to understand the art of dressing, and this art is found just as truly among the peasants of the provinces as in the fashionable world at Paris.

The picture is a study in black and white which any one who cares for drawing will wish to examine attentively. He was indeed a master who could, with a single bit of charcoal, make us feel the witchery of this early morning hour by the river-side. We note the many different "tones" of the picture,—the faint soft mist of the distant atmosphere over the marshes, growing darker on the poplars and the hilly bank in the middle distance; the shadow of the bank in the river; the gleam of the sunlight on the calm water mid-stream; the ripples about the jar; the sharply defined figures of the women, dark on the side turned from the sun; and the quivering shadow of the kneeling woman in the ripple-broken water in front.

Among primitive peoples the hour of sunrise was a sacred time, when hymns were sung and sacrifices were offered to the life-giving sun. The painter Millet has expressed something of the mystic solemnity of the hour in this picture. The sun has awakened the world to work, and in its strength men and women go forth to labor.[1]


A fine passage on the morning occurs in Thoreau's second chapter of Walden.